Creamy. Baked. Mac and cheese. If your mouth is watering already, you’re not alone. Today, I’m letting you in on a little secret recipe that’s been my go-to remedy for those serious comfort cravings—especially this time of year when we all want a cozy meal.
Picture this: velvety waves of cheesy goodness, wrapped around perfectly cooked macaroni, with savory Cajun flavors in every bite. There’s something about the creamy texture paired with the unmistakable kick of Cajun spices that turns your average mac and cheese into a warm hug in a bowl. It’s the kind of dish that warms your soul and leaves you wanting seconds, thirds, and fourths.
Not only is this 30-minute dinner recipe beyond easy to make, but you only need a few simple ingredients—most of which you likely have in the pantry. When life gets too hectic or work throws curveballs your way, take a nostalgic trip down memory lane with an elevated version of an iconic childhood favorite.
But enough about me and my love affair with this indulgent mac and cheese recipe. I could probably go on forever, but you’re here to find out for yourself how to make your new favorite comfort food dish. So grab your apron, get that oven preheated, and get ready to experience a recipe so good, you won’t want to enjoy it alone.
Mac and Cheese Ingredients
- Elbow macaroni – or another small noodle shape of your choice, I don’t judge!
- Cajun seasoning – an epic flavor enhancer that won’t overwhelm the dish.
- Cheese – Monterey Jack and sharp cheddar are my go-to cheeses.
- All-purpose flour – You’ll need this to make the roux, which will serve as the base for your creamy mac and cheese sauce.
- Whole milk – feel free to swap for low-fat milk for a lighter version.
- Salted butter – or bacon grease to add a richer depth of flavor.
How to Make Baked Mac and Cheese
You can whip up this creamy mac and cheese from start to finish in just 30 minutes, making it the perfect easy weeknight meal. Here’s how to make it:
Step 1 – In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the elbow macaroni according to the package instructions until al dente. Drain and set aside.
Step 2 – In a mixing bowl, combine the shredded Monterey Jack and sharp cheddar cheeses. Toss them together until blended.
Step 3 – In a large skillet or saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the all-purpose flour to create a roux. Cook the roux, stirring constantly, for about 2-3 minutes or until it deepens to a light golden color.
Step 4 – Gradually whisk in the milk, ensuring there are no lumps. Continue to cook and stir until the mixture thickens, which should take about 5-7 minutes.
Step 5 – Stir in the Cajun seasoning, adjusting the amount to suit your preferred level of spiciness. Keep in mind that the cheese will also add some saltiness, so you may want to taste as you go and adjust accordingly.
Step 6 – Reduce the heat to low and gradually add the cheese mixture to the milk mixture, stirring continuously until the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth and creamy. Add the cooked elbow macaroni to the cheese sauce and gently stir until the pasta is well coated with the creamy cheese mixture.
Step 7 – Transfer to an oven-safe dish, add extra shredded cheese on top, and bake at 350°F for 25 minutes covered, then an additional 10-15 minutes uncovered. Enjoy!
Expert Tips and Tricks
Here are some of my top tips to help you make the best creamy baked mac and cheese:
- Feel free to finish this dish on the stove if you don’t want to bake it in the oven.
- If possible, be sure to use block cheese and shred it at home. The pre-shredded kind does not melt as well and won’t give you the same gooey, creamy results.
- If you can’t find elbow macaroni, any other small pasta shape will work. Good options include shells, radiatore, bowtie, cavatappi, rotini, and campanelle.
- Use cold milk (not warm) to prevent the milk mixture from getting clumpy.
- The elbow macaroni will continue to cook slightly in the oven, so be sure to cook it to al dente or one minute under so it doesn’t overcook and get soggy.
Mac and Cheese Variations
Looking to mix things up? Here are some delicious variations to try at home.
- Crunchy Toppings – If you like your baked mac and cheese with a bit of crunch, mix melted butter with breadcrumbs or crushed Ritz crackers and spread over the dish before baking it.
- Bacon Mac and Cheese – Toss in some crumbled bacon for some added protein and tons of savory flavor.
- Different Cheeses – While I love using Monterey Jack and sharp cheddar, you can use any combination you prefer. Gouda, gruyere, Havarti, and parmesan are all popular options for mac and cheese.
- Spicy Mac and Cheese – Add a dash of cayenne pepper or a small amount of hot sauce if you’re looking for more of a kick.
- Lightened Up Version – You can lighten up this dish by swapping the pasta for gluten-free or whole wheat pasta, replacing the whole milk with low-fat milk, or using ghee instead of butter.
- Veggie Mac and Cheese – If you’re cooking for kids and want to sneak in some veggies, some common additions include peas, broccoli, and carrots.
What to Serve With Baked Mac and Cheese
While you could absolutely enjoy this creamy mac and cheese dish on its own, I like pairing it with a protein and a side dish when I’m cooking for a group. Here are some crave-worthy dishes to serve with mac and cheese:
- Smoked St. Louis Style Ribs
- Pull Apart Garlic Bread
- Juicy, Tender Beef Short Ribs
- Southern Crab Beignets
- Baked Garlic Parmesan Wings
Can’t eat it all at once? No worries. This baked mac and cheese recipe is easy to store, as explained below:
- Fridge – Let the dish cool, then transfer it to an airtight container and store it in the fridge for up to 3 days. Add a splash of milk before reheating mac and cheese, as noodles tend to absorb moisture over time.
- Freezer –You can safely store this dish in the freezer for up to 3 months. However, keep in mind that frozen mac and cheese will not have the same consistency when thawed. If you decide to freeze it, be sure to let it thaw in the fridge overnight before reheating it in the oven.
Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese FAQs
Have any questions? Here are the answers to some of the most common questions about baked mac and cheese. If you don’t see yours here, feel free to drop a comment down below.
What are the best cheeses for mac and cheese?
I always recommend using at least two types of cheese to make mac and cheese for maximum flavor. What you choose is entirely up to you, but the most common variations include Monterey Jack, sharp cheddar, parmesan, gouda, Havarti, fontina, and gruyere.
What kind of milk is best for mac and cheese?
Personally, I’ve always had the creamiest, best-tasting results when using whole milk for mac and cheese. You can lighten it up with a low-fat version, but this is meant to be a comfort food dish, so don’t be afraid of a little fat!
What thickens mac and cheese?
Starting with butter and flour to make a roux is essential for developing a thick and creamy cheese sauce. If you skip this step, you’ll wind up with a thin, lumpy sauce.
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Mac n Cheese
Check this rich and cheesy baked mac and cheese out. It’s creamy, comforting, and PERFECT for the holidays, as well as a comforting family dinner!
In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the elbow macaroni according to the package instructions until al dente. Drain and set aside.
In a mixing bowl, combine the shredded Monterey Jack and sharp cheddar cheeses. Toss them together to create a cheese blend.
In a separate large skillet or saucepan, melt the butter (or bacon grease) over medium heat. Stir in the all-purpose flour to create a roux. Cook the roux, stirring constantly, for about 2-3 minutes or until it becomes a light golden color.
Gradually whisk in the whole milk, ensuring there are no lumps. Continue to cook and stir until the mixture thickens, which should take about 5-7 minutes.
Stir in the Cajun seasoning, adjusting the amount to your preferred level of spiciness. Keep in mind that the cheese will also add some saltiness, so you may want to taste and adjust accordingly.
Reduce the heat to low and gradually add the shredded cheese mixture to the milk mixture, stirring continuously until the cheese is fully melted and the sauce is smooth and creamy. Add the cooked elbow macaroni to the cheese sauce and gently stir until the pasta is well coated with the creamy cheese mixture.
Add into an oven safe dish, add extra shredded cheese on top and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes covered and 10 – 15 minutes uncovered. Enjoy!